Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thanks for the Memories and Welcome!

Tomorrow I will go up to my cabin in the mountains to spend the last days of the year reflecting on the year that is ending and anticipating the year about to begin. This year I’m going to try a more formal sort of retreat, following the suggestions in a book by Sylvia Boorstein titled Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There. You gotta love that title.

I look forward to my New Year's Eve ritual. I build a fire in the fireplace. In the last hours of the year, I write a letter to the old year. I reflect on the year, on what I learned and experienced, on the themes of the year, on what I think I will remember. I thank the year for all the blessings it has brought.

Then I write a letter to the new year. I welcome the new year and share my hopes and intentions. I invite the new year in like a new friend, curious, eager to get acquainted, excited about possibilities. I tell the new year what my word of the year is (more on this in just a moment).

I hold both letters as I say a prayer, once more thanking the departing year and welcoming the new year. Then I burn both letters in the fireplace as an offering.

Every year on New Year's Eve, I pick a word for the following year. It is always a verb. It is not a resolution. My word is a focus word, a gentle reminder, a guide. I write the word on little cards that I place where my gaze is sure to light--by my computer, the bathroom mirror, the car dash.

How do I choose my word? Sometimes I am pretty sure I know before New Year's Eve, but more often I don't. As the year comes to a close, I open my mind and heart. The word comes to me, like a whisper in my soul.

My word for 2010 has been "Attend." It calls me to the present moment. It guides me to suspend my inner chatter and to look and listen. Sometimes when I'm caught up in distractions and reactions, I can hear it and I take a deep breath and pause. Attend. It has been a cherished word and I’m grateful for it.

I won’t know my 2011 word for sure until New Year’s Eve, but the word “Yield” has been dancing around in the shadows of my awareness for several weeks now. I suspect that might be my new word. We’ll see. I will return from the cabin on New Year’s Day, and I will post my new word and tell more about it.

As part of my thanks to the departing year, I would like to say thank you to you. I started this blog in February, not at all sure what I was doing (still don’t know), and with no idea where it would lead (still don’t know that either). But I do know this. I have been so deeply touched and humbled by the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from so many people. I remember the first follower I got who was not a friend or family member. I couldn’t believe it! Who was this mystery person?! Now I have lots of new blog friends.

Through you and your blogs, I have received so much wisdom, inspiration, challenge, information, and lots of great fun. And as we all know, fun is good. I am so blessed to be part of this network of people. You are such a gift. Thank you.

Best wishes for a blessed end of 2010 and a new beginning with unlimited possibilities in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Preparing the Ground

I know lots of folks (like my kids!) love Christmas, but I really prefer the lull after Christmas. I like the quiet time to reflect on the year winding to a close and to anticipate the new one almost here.

With that in mind, I thought I would say a little more about the blog plans for 2011. As I said before, I am going to try a more structured approach, highlighting one of the 10 Steps every month.

Before we get started with that, it might help to prepare the ground, so to speak, to grow some new habits. Remember that only 10% of our happiness depends on outer circumstances. Of the 90% left, some portion is based on the temperament we were born with, but the overwhelming portion of our happiness is directly attributable to our habitual thoughts, actions, words, and feelings. In other words, biology and circumstances are resoundingly trumped by habits in the happiness formula.

So let’s start with a baseline. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate yourself as a happy person? This isn’t about how you are feeling at this moment, but generally, how would you rate this aspect of your life? This is like your homepage, your default setting.

Okay, now let me ask you, if you could increase that number, would you? Most of us would say yes. Whether we are at 2 or 9.9 on the scale, most of us would not say no to more happiness. So what we are going to do is reset our homepage. We are going to move our default setting up the scale. We are going to do this by identifying and reinforcing our habits that serve us, and by substituting good habits for the ones that don’t.

Will that make us feel happy all the time? Of course not. But we can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and to sustain us during challenging times. We can live in the embrace of deep, abiding joy.

Between now and end of the year, I invite you to think about your habits. If you are like most folks, you have some habits in both categories, habits that serve you and habits that don’t. So be honest. But no judgment. No blame. No effort to be any different. Just loving awareness. In fact, if there is a theme throughout all the steps, I would call it loving awareness.

Hold that thought....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happiness is the Way

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. –Buddha

A friend asked me to “favor him with a reflection” on this saying by the Buddha. I doubt that my reflections are a favor to anyone, and I have no expertise in Buddhism, but the passage is intriguing and I have been mulling it over for a few days.

It reminds me that there is no way to happiness “out there.” I’ve read that only 10% of our happiness is dependent on outer circumstances. That’s not very much. So happiness, if it to be found anywhere, is inside us. As the Bible says, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

I had lunch today with a former student, now with his own successful practice. As we talked, I was struck by his great attitude about life. He seemed truly happy. I asked him about it, and he told me a story. He spent six years in the Navy, most all of it out at sea working in the engine room of the ship. It was hot. It was hot all the time. There were no days off, no vacations. He looks back on it in a Tale of Two Cities kind of way – it was the worst of times which led to the best of times. Now when he gets up in the night and goes to his refrigerator for a glass of cold milk, even after all these years, he is grateful that he has a kitchen that has a refrigerator that has fresh, cold milk in it. He is content.

Happiness is not a destination. It is the way we live. Or at least it is the way we can live, if we choose to. Choosing to live that way might take some effort, perhaps some training. There is much wisdom out there to guide us, to inspire us, to encourage us. But, like horses, we can be led to joy, but not made to drink it. Ultimately, it is our choice to live in joy. Or not. That freedom to choose can be scary (there is no one to blame) and liberating (we have the power) at the same time.

It is a choice we make every moment. We can remember happy times in the past, we can anticipate happy times in the future, but happiness can only be actually experienced in the present moment. So each moment is a new opportunity to choose. I believe that if we choose repeatedly to be happy, it becomes a habit, our default position. It doesn’t mean that we feel lalala happy all the time. But it means that we live from that foundation. It is our home base. In that sense, happiness is the way.

Developing joyful habits is the focus of this blog. The title 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) might sound like there is a way to happiness “out there,” but in truth, all the steps bring us back to where we started, with ourselves. George Moore said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Like finding your glasses on top of your head, we wake up and realize that our happiness was here all along.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Turning Toward Light

Yesterday was the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere. It was also winter solstice. Interesting that the beginning of winter also marks the beginning of longer daylight. As we enter the time of dark and frozen quiet, the days begin to lengthen, so gradually that most of us don’t notice until the morning when we wake up and see the dawn.

I have been touched by many blog posts in recent days about the grief of Christmas instead of the joy. For many people, the holidays mark experiences and anniversaries of loss, betrayal, loneliness, poverty, stress, and despair. My heart breaks open in witness to so much pain.

And yet, within the pain is promise. A friend once said that winter is when the earth is pregnant. What appears to be dead is quietly preparing to burst forth with life. As Bambi’s mother assured him, winter does not last forever.

So it is with the seasons of our lives.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Message to Portland Readers

Dear readers in the Portland area,

I will be leading a once a month discussion group beginning Jan. 11 and continuing on the second Tuesday of every month. The purpose of the group is to support each other as we develop habits to grow a joyful spirit.

Everyone is welcome. If you are interested, I would be glad to give you more information and answer any questions. Please email me at galenpearl@gmail.com.

Best wishes,

Monday, December 20, 2010


GLAD stands for Give Lovingly And Daringly.

I discovered this concept in the book Glad No Matter What, by SARK (pen name for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy). The author suggests that we can help the world by giving more, and giving more creatively.

We all have something to give, and giving not only benefits the recipient, but also benefits the giver. We are happier when we are sharing our gifts, whether that is money, time, talent, kindness, or ideas.

Oprah once gave $1000 to every audience member with the instruction that the money had to be given away. She had a follow up show to tell the stories of what people did with the money. That was the coolest show. Some people gave the money directly to their chosen recipients, and it was interesting to see the variety of choices. Others used the money as seed money to generate even more funds to donate. The ideas they came up with were so imaginative. But the best part was watching how darned happy everyone was. They were just giddy with generosity.

That show made me realize that I had not done a good job of teaching my kids to give. Well, that’s not entirely true. They have always participated in volunteer activities. But I had not taught them to give money. I have always donated money to organizations I support, but I always did it quietly and usually anonymously. I felt good in my own heart, but what I realized was that my kids never saw me do this. While I was doing a good job of teaching them to earn and manage their money, I totally dropped the ball on the giving part.

I have heard many great ideas from parents about how to teach their kids to give, and I would be delighted if you would share ideas in your comments. I’m sure many of you have done a much better job than I did! But that show really caught my attention. So I sat down with the kids and explained the concept. Then I pledged a certain amount of money for each kid to donate. I said we would do it every year.

They got into the spirit right away. It was fun to watch them explore and compare options. When they made their choices, I accompanied them to the organization so that they could give the check in person and see what their money was going to be used for. One daughter gave her money to the Humane Society. The director was so gracious and took her on a tour, explaining all the ways that donations help the animals.

The best part is that I now see them making the choice to donate some of their own money.

Of course, what we give doesn’t have to be money. So I am going to accept the GLAD challenge to think more consciously about all the blessings I have that I can share in more creative ways.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finish Well

New Year’s Eve is two weeks from today. Some of us are looking back at the year with some regret. There were so many things we meant to do, but didn’t. Resolutions that were abandoned before the new year champagne had gone flat. Hopes that didn’t manifest, dreams that died on the vine. Losses we didn’t see coming or weren’t prepared for.

Some of us have turned our attention away from this year, shrugging it off as a lost cause, too late to redeem (sort of like my football team). We are already looking ahead at the new year, excited about a fresh start, renewing the resolutions that we will surely keep this time, eager to do better, be better.

But go back to the first sentence. We have two weeks left in this year. In horse racing, it doesn’t matter if you are first out of the gate. It doesn’t matter if you trail behind or cruise along in the middle of the pack. What matters is how you finish. The finish line is everything.

I realized this morning that I was throwing away two precious weeks, a lifetime by some measures. I have two weeks to live well, do well, be well. I have two weeks to count all the blessings of this year, to be grateful for the abundance of grace that has poured over my life. I have two weeks to feel good about what I have accomplished instead of berating myself for what I didn’t. I have two weeks to be a good friend, to listen more, to help someone. I have two weeks to love my children, to appreciate my family and friends. I have two weeks of present moments, holy instants, to savor.

It doesn’t matter if you read this post today or Dec. 31. Whatever time is left in this year, two weeks or two minutes, is ours to do with as we choose. No matter what has happened this year, we can choose to finish well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Resolution or Revolution

It’s that time of year, looking ahead to a new year, a fresh start. It’s time to make our resolutions.

Be honest. What was your immediate reaction when you read that? When I wrote it, I felt a knot in my stomach, my shoulders slumped, I held my breath. (As I wrote in the last post, holding your breath is a sign of stress.) Hmm, this can’t be good.

Frankly, I don’t make resolutions anymore. Anyone who is a resolution veteran will tell you that we don’t often keep them. By the end of January, many of us can’t remember what they were. If we think about them at all, it is usually because we fell short of our goals, and we feel guilty, ashamed, inadequate, weak.

So I am proposing a resolution revolution! Let’s overthrow a system that is not serving us and find one that will.

First, let’s consider why the current system is not working. It seems to me that most resolutions are promises that we think we should make, without much thought about whether they are promises we really want to make. Also, many of our resolutions are really about habits, either bad habits we want to quit, or good habits we want to develop. Habits can rarely be changed based on a single act of will. Finally, we often set up our resolutions as all or nothing goals. We either meet the goal 100% or we fail. Yikes!

So let’s revolutionize our system. Revolution means a turning, a complete change. Let’s turn the system on its axis until it supports us and sets us up for success.

1. Make commitments you really want to make.

Shoulds are not going to work. We have to want it. We have to want it more than we want the status quo. Here’s an example. I lived a good part of my life with some emotional habits that were not good for me. I knew I needed to make some changes, but I was afraid. Then one night I ended up in the emergency room with a pain in my abdomen (picture third chakra) that was so bad I thought I was going to die. The immediate physical suspects were quickly ruled out. They doped me up and scheduled me for a series of tests over the next several weeks. A week later I was back in the ER with the same symptoms. By then I knew that there was no physical cause. This was my cosmic wake up call. I decided right then and there that whatever I had to go through to make some changes in my life was less scary than experiencing that pain again.

Okay, that was a dramatic example. Sometimes we can achieve the same result by reframing the choice (and avoiding the trip to the ER). For example, maybe I don’t want to exercise as much as I want to sit and watch TV. But suppose my choice is between being incapacitated by poor health and being able to take a hike in the beautiful forest when I go to my cabin.

The point is to figure out what you really want and then frame your choice so that what you want is compellingly more desirable than what you have.

2. Focus on habits rather than on a goal.

Let’s be aware of our habits that serve us or hinder us. If we are not making progress on a goal, chances are there are some habits we are not addressing. (Gail Brenner has written a great post on becoming aware of our habits.)

Research shows that it takes about 21 days to change or to develop a habit. A church in Kansas City initiated a program to help the congregation break the toxic habit of complaining. Each member gets a purple plastic bracelet. Each time you catch yourself complaining, you switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal is to go 21 days without complaining. (Check out A Complaint Free World)

If we focus on our habits instead of a single goal, we are much more likely to make the changes we need to make to support our efforts instead of sabotaging ourselves. Instead of fixating on losing 50 pounds, we could focus on becoming aware of and changing our lifestyle habits.

As for specific techniques to change or develop habits, I will be writing about that frequently next year as I focus on each of the 10 steps to finding our happy place and staying there. But really, most of us have stopped a bad habit or developed a good one, so we already know how to do this. Think about what steps you went through.

3. Celebrate success.

We tend to focus on our shortcomings rather than our successes. Why is that? I don’t know. At any rate, that is a habit in itself that we can set out to change.

Going back to the complaint free church, part of the program is recognizing that if you beat yourself up every time you have to switch the bracelet to the other wrist, that is a form of complaint. Instead, give yourself credit for every minute you don’t have to switch the bracelet. Be your own cheerleader! Wow, I went five minutes that time! Way to go! The stated goal of being complaint free for 21 days is much less important that the awareness and effort made for 21 days.

One of my favorite stories is about Father Keating who started a practice called centering prayer. The idea is to choose a focus word, or centering word, that we can use when we find our mind wandering to call our attention back to our contemplative union with the divine. (It’s like using the word “thinking” in Buddhist mindfulness meditation.) Once, after a prayer session, a frustrated nun came up to the priest and complained, “I feel terrible! I must have had to say my centering word 1000 times.” Father Keating didn’t miss a beat. “That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed. “That’s 1000 times you were connected to God.”

So join with me this year and become a resolution revolutionary!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are You Belly Breathing?

Sometimes I will run across something and I’ll think, oh that’s interesting, and then I move on to something else. But when I run across the same thing almost immediately from another source, I think, oh this is something I should pay attention to. I didn’t pay attention the first time so it has come to me again.

So here it is. Belly breathing. That means breathing into the lower part of your lungs. This will push your belly out. We’re born breathing that way. Animals breathe that way.

Somewhere along the way many of us become chest breathers, breathing only into the top part of our lungs. Why do we do that? Maybe because we want to keep our tummies flat. Maybe because of stress. Stress causes us to hold our breath. Holding our breath tells our brains that we are in danger and that triggers the release of fight or flight chemicals, very handy if we are actually being attacked, but very damaging over time. Chronic shallow breathing feeds a loop of stress response, actually creating more stress.

Just as shallow breathing contributes to stress, belly breathing promotes relaxation. It tells our brains that we are safe and releases seritonin and endorphins. Deep breathing pumps more oxygen into our blood, which in turn nourishes our muscles and our brains. I’ve read that deep breathing can alleviate pain, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression. It helps us remove toxins and improves the immune system. I didn’t read this anywhere, but I’m hoping it will help me remember where I left the car keys.

One of the sources that recently came to my attention was a presentation to managers about resilience. The presentation focused on scientific study of the different parts of the brain, which links belly breathing with higher brain function. Higher brain function relates to our attention span, judgment, empathy, learning, forethought, optimism, and self-awareness.

In other words, belly breathing will help us quickly get back to and stay in our happy place. So how do we change a habit as basic as how we breathe? Here are some techniques I’ve started using. I’ve added 10 belly breaths to my wake up routine to get my brain turbo charged with oxygen. I begin my morning meditation with a few deep breaths. I also take 10 belly breaths when I go to bed to help me relax and get ready for sleep. I already have my phone set to vibrate at 10am, 2pm, and 6pm as a reminder to say a quick prayer, so it’s easy to take a few deep breaths then as well. And of course any other time when I become aware of shallow breathing, I can shift to belly breathing.

The key is to avoid making this an added stressor! Don’t worry about the times you forget. Give yourself credit for the times you remember. Your body and mind will thank you for every belly breath!

Check out this site for some additional tips!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog Plans for 2011

I have been blogging for ten months about finding our happy place and staying there. The ideas have been organized around 10 steps. Every post relates to one or more steps. I have not approached this in any systematic way. Rather, I have written about what caught my attention, or what was on my mind at that particular time.

In 2011, I would like to focus on the steps in a more structured way. Beginning in January, I will highlight one step every month. For example, in January the posts will focus on step 1, giving yourself permission to be happy.

Because the blog is primarily concerned with habits, and because it takes approximately three weeks to establish a habit, I believe that by highlighting one step a month, we can establish good habits relating to that step before moving on to the next. By the end of ten months, we will have terrific habits that will firmly ground us in our happy place.

Of course, there might be things that pop up off topic, and I will write about those things just like I do now. But the step of the month will be the predominant theme throughout the month.

My goal is still, as it always has been, to offer practical techniques that we can easily incorporate into our everyday lives. No resolutions, no extra things on our already too long to do lists, no separate place or time to practice. These are habits to weave into our ordinary lives, to reset our default manner of interacting with our world and the people in it.

My hope is that you will be my partners in this adventure, sharing your ideas and stories through comments or emails as we go along. Anonymous comments are always an option if you prefer. On the other hand, if you are an occasional visitor or a silent lurker (as I am on several blogs), then you are most welcome to continue in whatever way makes you most comfortable.

I will write more about these plans (and about my usual random topics) through the rest of December, and we will start the new year with this new approach.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Into the Future, One Baby Step at a Time

Jessica Simpson made a commercial for Direct TV in her Daisy Duke character. She was serving beer to some good ol' boys in the bar who were talking about the advantages of Direct TV. As she put the beer down, one of the guys slapped her on the butt of her little short shorts. Before he could say "redneck," she threw him on the floor and pinned his throat with her spike heel. Then she looked in the camera and (speaking about Direct TV) said in the most exaggerated Southern accent possible, "I totally don't know what that is, but I want it!"

Well, that's how I felt about an RSS feed on my blog. I saw them on other blogs, and people told me I should have it on my blog. So I finally said, "I totally don't know what that is, but I want it!" And my good friend Rob magically made it happen.

So now you can sign up for it, whatever it is! Look for the RSS box under the email subscription box in the right margin.

Now I'm going to have to figure out what Twitter is and become a tweeter. Maybe next year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It Starts Young

Blogdom has shifted from gratitude at Thanksgiving to over consumption during the holidays. Post after post gives us advice about lowering our stress, avoiding bankruptcy, and focusing on meaning instead of the mall. But I fear we are fighting an uphill battle.

My daughter went to a Catholic elementary school. At Christmas, each class sang a song in the Christmas service. Her first grade class was going to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which includes the refrain “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Some of the words were hard, but she practiced and practiced. She would stumble a bit through the verses, but when she got to the refrain, she would belt it out with rejoicing that could be heard all the way to Israel, I’m sure.

Then, shortly before the service, I listened more closely. Instead of reverently singing “rejoice, rejoice,” she was greedily singing “New toys! New toys!”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Secret of World Peace

I mentioned in my last post that there is a treasure trove of wisdom at Life Lessons Series. Two bloggers, Abubakar Jamil and Farnoosh Brock, are cohosting this collection of contributions from various bloggers about lessons they wish they had learned earlier in life.

Over 80 people have contributed so far, including me. There is so much to read, I haven’t even gotten through half of it yet. It’s more wisdom than my little brain can absorb!

But the most amazing part, to me, is that the contributors are such a diverse group. If you browse around the site, you will see writers of different races, faiths, cultures, genders, and nationalities.

Even more amazing is that all these people from all these different backgrounds have learned similar lessons. You will see some common threads running through the lessons. It is fun to discover for yourself, so I won’t try to identify them here. But perhaps the overall lesson is that no matter what country, race, or faith we come from, we all have similar ideas about the things in life that really matter.

And you know what’s even more amazing than that? What’s even more astoundingly amazing is that everybody is acting like it’s NORMAL for all these people from all these different backgrounds to be talking together about this topic. About any topic, for that matter. No one seems to think it’s a big deal. That is so unbelievably cool.

When I lived in Bangkok, I helped start a professional women’s group. Before long, we had over 150 members from over 30 different countries. At our monthly meetings you would see women of many colors, dressed in even more colors, laughing and chatting about our common experiences. This blog project reminds me of that.

Look around. In my country, people can’t even talk to each other with civility across political lines. In my own city, a young Muslim man tried (unsuccessfully, thank God) to set off a bomb in a huge crowd of adults and children gathered in a downtown square to watch the lighting of a Christmas tree. An anonymous person retaliated by firebombing the mosque he sometimes attended. In response, hundreds of people from many faiths gathered for a candlelight vigil, circling the mosque to show support and protection. So much fear and pain calling out for so much understanding and compassion.

Check out this project and consider the possibilities. I am so humbled and grateful to be a part of it. So this is my personal thank you to the hosts and to all the contributors. Thanks for letting me tag along.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wake Up, Grow Up, Show Up

I found a treasure trove of wisdom today at the Life Lessons Series hosted on Abubakar Jamil’s blog. It got me to thinking about the lessons I’ve learned in life. They can all be summed up like this:

1. Wake up
2. Grow up
3. Show up

1. Wake up

Wake up and see the world as it really is. When Buddha was asked if he was a god or an angel, he answered no. The questioner persisted, “Then what are you?” Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

I spent decades of my life not seeing the world as it is. Instead, I saw what I wanted to see. I rationalized relationships that were unhealthy. I was the diva of denial. And I was a liar, especially to myself, presenting to the world an image of myself as I wanted to be (read perfect), without regard to the damage my deception caused to my own spirit and to others.

My life was not real. It was made up, because I was afraid to look at truth. But being perfect in a perfect world is stressful! Finally, I couldn’t live like that anymore. Over time, I came to appreciate the perfection of imperfection. As someone wrote, “I’m not okay, and you’re not okay, and that’s okay.” It’s better than okay. It’s perfect.

2. Grow up

Grow up and accept life on its own terms. Recovering alcoholics in AA know all about this. It is embodied in the serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change....”

This was a hard lesson for a control freak like myself. Fortunately, God has a 12 step program for control addicts. It’s called children. I could give you so many examples, but the one I learned the most from was my son’s autism.

I am a problem solver. So I set out to solve the problem of James’s autism. I tried every possible treatment. If a treatment didn’t work, then I simply moved on to the next. I looked for any sign of improvement, finding great significance in ... well, nothing. Each method held such hope ... and led to such despair.

Then one morning I passed the partially open bathroom door as James was brushing his teeth. He was looking in the mirror and making faces and laughing. As I walked by, I heard him say with such exuberant enthusiasm, “It’s GREAT to be James!”

I stopped in my tracks. All this time I thought it must be terrible to be James. And all this time he thought being James was terrific.

3. Show up

Show up and participate in your life. Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up.

Several people I know have died this year. People my age. People who were busy making other plans that did not include dying. So besides missing them, I’ve had my own mortality in my face, up close and personal. And if I didn’t realize it before, I certainly realize now that life is short. While I’m worrying about all the things that might happen in some future I might not even live to see, I’m missing my life right now.

My friends gave me many gifts during their lifetimes, but with their deaths they gave me the gift of an intense appreciation for this very precious present moment.

“Life is short, and we have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel this way with us. Oh, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind.”

And that is the most important lesson of all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Robert the GOAT

As I was walking home yesterday, I found myself sharing the sidewalk with a young man in a UPS jacket. As I passed by, I said hello. As we continued to walk we started to chat. He was on his way home from work. He got to talking about his work in a UPS warehouse where packages are unloaded, sorted and put on the proper conveyor belts, and loaded up again.

The more we talked, the more excited he got, telling me all the complexities of getting packages from point A to point B on time with no mistakes. I found out that the holiday season actually starts well before Thanksgiving. (Who gets their shopping and shipping done that early?!) Although he has moved up the ladder from doing the package handling himself to supervising people who do, he has to jump in and help sometimes, and is proud that he still has his package handling mojo. He told me how many packages he oversees in a day.

I had so much fun talking with Robert. He was so clearly engaged in and proud of his job. He told me at work they call him the goat. Goat? I thought I misunderstood. Goat, he said. An acronym G-O-A-T. I tried to guess. He let me fumble around for a minute, building suspense, then puffed out his chest and said with glee, Greatest Of All Time.

We finally had to part ways, but I was so charmed by Robert that I called UPS and tried to find someone who would know who Robert is. I eventually was put in touch with a supervisor. I told her that UPS is very lucky to have employees like Robert out there representing their company. I suggested that UPS should be using Robert in their commercials. My chat with Robert was the best advertisement for any company I have ever seen.

I have been thinking about Robert a lot today. Do I do whatever task I have to do, at work or elsewhere, with that much pride and enthusiasm? Would anyone call me the GOAT? Well maybe a goat, but the GOAT?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Awe is Awesome

I just read an article in O, the Oprah Magazine, about awe. Apparently, feeling a sense of awe is good for our health, both physical and emotional. Awe releases feel good chemicals in our brain that spur us to connect with others. When we experience something that amazes us, our first response is to feel good. Our second response is to want to share it with others. For example, the article said that the most emailed NY Times articles are not about oil spills and terrorism; the most emailed articles are inspirational, like articles about discoveries in space and stories of heroism or courage or generosity.

Most of us have our own personal guaranteed awe triggers, like gazing at the Milky Way or watching our children sleeping.

And then there are specific events that make us stop and say, “This is amazing.” For example, the trapped miners getting rescued in Chile. Or the pictures someone emailed me recently showing some young cheetahs chasing a baby antelope. When they caught it, they just played gently with it. The pictures show them licking it like a mother licking her cub, and the antelope nuzzling its deadly enemies. Then they all walked away to hunt and run another day.

Closer to home, I was up at my cabin this weekend. While I was out walking, it started snowing those big fat cottony flakes. The forest was so quiet I could hear the flakes softly ticking as they landed. So exquisitely beautiful.

The article made me realize how often I rush past awe. I don’t look up at the stars. I don’t pause to delight in the wonder. I don’t bother to share my discovery with someone. I am going to use my word of the year, attend, as a reminder in these last weeks of 2010 to savor and share the awe.

What are your guaranteed awe triggers? What has amazed you recently?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pilgrims in Thailand?

I had the good fortune to live and work in Bangkok many years ago. I was the only American in my office, and of course Thanksgiving is not a Thai holiday, so when Thanksgiving came, I took the afternoon off to go have dinner with other Americans.

That morning at the office, before I left, I was chatting with some colleagues. In an attempt to bridge cultures, I joked, “Even though this is an American holiday, we can all take a moment to think about all the things we have to be grateful for. For example, you can be thankful that the pilgrims didn’t land in Thailand!”

Everyone laughed politely and I was congratulating myself on the success of my cross-cultural humor, when several people asked at once, “What’s a pilgrim?”

I knew then I had a lot to learn!

No matter where you are in the world, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I'm Grateful For

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the idea of a day set aside to share food and companionship with others as we celebrate gratitude. There is no big commercialization of Thanksgiving – witness the shift in the stores from Halloween directly to Christmas. Thanksgiving’s value to the consumer society is only in its passing to the shopping extravaganza of Black Friday.

So I love this day. I don’t have to buy presents or send out cards. I don’t have to fight crowds in the mall. I just get to be grateful.

So why don’t I feel more grateful this Thanksgiving? I can rattle off numerous blessings, big and small. By most anyone’s standards, I haven’t a care in the world. And yet my heart is heavy.

Perhaps because people near and dear to me are approaching this holiday season without loved ones who have recently died – a young husband and father, a wife of many seasons, a daughter. Perhaps because our political leaders continue to engage in tactics and rhetoric that would be comical if they weren’t so destructive. Perhaps because I know that last night as the temperature plummeted, there were homeless people in my neighborhood looking for a place to stay warm and dry, or perhaps to just stay alive.

So how can I take this heaviness and find the gratitude in it? I can be even more humbly grateful for the blessings I have, knowing how fleeting and precious our treasured moments are. I can be grateful for awareness of other people’s suffering. I can be grateful for an open heart to feel compassion. I can be grateful for the abundant resources I can share through contributing to shelters and food banks. I can show my gratitude by saying thank you to as many people as possible. And I can tell the people who bless my life how much I love them.

I hope that all of you find joy in this holiday of thankfulness.

I would like to share a blessing that someone sent to me recently.

“Here is my prayer – that you are given at least daily a reminder from at least one of those to whom your presence on this Earth has been important that you are remembered and that you are loved.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dust Bunnies of the Soul

After a hectic, anxiety-filled week, I enjoyed having a quiet day at home watching football and cleaning house during the commercials. I was in no hurry so I got to all those places we often overlook – the baseboard, tops of pictures, and under the couch where I found, not surprisingly, extended families of dust bunnies.

That got me to thinking about my spiritual life. (Hold on – there is a connection here.) Lately, it seems like things long forgotten have resurfaced in my awareness, seeking attention. Things that have apparently been living quietly for years in dark places, hidden from sight, like dust bunnies of the soul.

Traveling along most any inner path seems to involve, at some point, dealing with things we would rather forget, things that bring us shame or guilt or pain or fear. Although we might hope that our path would bring total peace of mind and heart, we can’t seem to get there without becoming friends with the demons we’ve kept locked in the basement as well as the less scary dust bunnies in the corners.

Whether we experience it as the dark night of the soul, the unfolding of the lotus, or addressing our therapeutic issues, we finally realize, as Pema Chodron says, the wisdom of no escape. We come to a place where making the changes we need to make in order to have a better life is less terrifying than doing things the way we always have.

And so we set about to clean house. We turn the light on in the basement, we slide the Swiffer under the couch, we throw away the unidentifiable stuff in the back of the refrigerator. And when everything is sparkling clean, we try to keep it that way as long as possible.

But you know and I know that those dust bunnies will start to reproduce again. We don’t live in a sterile world, not on the outside nor on the inside. Life is messy. So we can begrudge the periodic need to get out the cleaning supplies, or we can make peace with the rhythm of our lives, knowing that living and loving means muddy pawprints across the floor I just mopped.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

No Do Overs

Now is the only time anything happens. And every now, disappearing just as rapidly as it arrives, has been shaped and created by a habit and, in its fleeting existence, is shaping and creating habits.” –Sylvia Boorstein

When I read this, I feel even more strongly the urgency of developing habits to support a joyful spirit. The need, as Buddha said, to practice like my hair is on fire. Every now is here and gone so quickly that we don’t have time to plan it before it has vanished. And once it is gone, it’s gone. We don’t get to rethink that thought, resay those words, redo those acts. So our habits are crucial to the quality of our moment by moment experience of now.

I’ve read that 40% of our happiness is based on our habitual thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. 50% is based on our natural temperament. Only 10% is based on outer circumstances. That puts a walloping 40% in our total control. And that 40% is based on habits, our default ways of interacting with our world.

Deciding to be joyful is an impossible task. But changing and developing habits is manageable. We can do that. We can choose to develop habits to grow and maintain a deep, abiding happiness. We can max out that 40%.

We can’t do over all the nows that have already gone past. Let them go. But we can use this present now to shape and create habits that will lead to future nows of joy.

Let's make every now count.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Our Treasurest Place

My two autistic sons live in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. It is a modest home by anyone’s standards, funded primarily by the clients’ government benefits. They do not have lives of privilege or abundance in material things.

I was taking them home recently after a family dinner. As I pulled into their driveway, James said wistfully, “This is the treasurest place on earth.” When I asked him what he meant, he paused and nodded thoughtfully, “I have everything I want.”

In the aftermath of the crazed scramble for a retirement/severance package (see last post), I have been reflecting on James’s words this week. One might not expect profound wisdom from the mouth of a young adult with autism, which just proves that we need to be open to truth from any source.

Notice that James didn’t say he has everything he needs, which would certainly be true. He went further to say that he has everything he wants. How many of us can say that? How many of us do say it?

Make no mistake, James does want things. A new DVD, a hamburger and fries with root beer, a trip to the library. So what did he mean? I think he meant that he has everything he wants in order to be happy. I think he recognized that his happiness was complete whether he has certain “things” or not. His statement was one of utter contentment and appreciation.

May we all live in our treasurest place and have everything we want.

He who knows enough is enough will always have enough. –Tao Te Ching

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buddha was Right

Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is attachment. When we are attached to a particular outcome, when we desire things to be other than what they are, when we crave something we don’t have or fear losing something we do have, when we seek to control what we can’t control, we suffer.

As Sylvia Boorstein writes, life’s challenges are inevitable. Suffering is optional. The last few days have been the perfect example.

I’m planning to retire. I have been thinking about it for awhile, and for many reasons, the timing is right. Just as I was poised to tell my supervisor that I was ready to retire, my workplace offered a generous severance program to certain eligible employees, including me. This is a one time offer for the purpose of cutting back on staff to address budgetary concerns. The funds for the offer are limited, so not all employees who are eligible will be able to get in the program. The funds will be allocated during a six week window on a first come, first served basis. The window opens Monday morning.

Speculation and anxiety are rampant. Will people be lining up during the night like folks trying to get tickets to a rock concert? What time should I be there? What if I don’t go early enough and miss my chance? What if people try to save places in line for other people? What if, what if, what if...?

So for the last several days, I have been plotting my strategy. I couldn’t sleep last night. My mind was too busy playing out all the “what if” scenarios, all ending with the crushing dread, “What if I don’t get the money?” I felt stressed and anxious and overwhelmed with greed.

What happened to my happy place? Apparently, I am willing to sell it for the right price. For even the possibility of the right price. I woke up knowing I needed a reality check, so I drove up to my cabin for the day and had some quiet time by the creek.

Sure, I want the money. All of us who are eligible and ready to retire want it. Wanting it is understandable. But I’m not more entitled to this money than any other eligible person. And why have I conditioned my happiness on getting it? If I don’t get it, I have not lost one penny. I’m exactly where I was before I knew about the program. No one is taking anything away from me. If I was happy with my plan to retire without the severance package, then why would my happiness be affected by not getting it?

So here is my challenge to myself. Can I line up with everyone else, understanding that we are all connected by our hope? Can I see everyone as a child of God instead of some enemy trying to cheat me out of something that isn’t even mine? If I am lucky enough to get the money, can I feel compassion for those who don’t? And if I don’t get the money, can I allow myself a moment of disappointment and then walk away, happy for those who did and knowing I am still blessed beyond belief?

I hope so, for my sake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giving by Asking

Of all the steps discussed in this blog, it seems that forgiveness (step 8) is one of the hardest. The foundation of so many teachings, and the subject of endless writing, it remains one of the most challenging to accomplish.

Even the concept is hard to grasp, like a squirming, slippery fish. Forgiveness sometimes masks judgment. As in, I forgive you because I am a better person than you. Or lack of compassion, as in, I forgive you because I want you to feel bad. And even when we genuinely forgive someone, sometimes the forgiveness doesn’t stay put. As in, I know I forgave you for this, but I was remembering what you did and now I’m all upset again.

I recently stumbled across a new perspective on forgiveness. I was talking with a friend about a person who had wronged me years ago in a major way. It doesn’t matter who the wrongdoer was, so I’ll just call this person Jane. I held such bitterness towards Jane for so long that I knew it was poisoning my whole life. So I set out to forgive Jane. I would like to tell you that my motivation was that I wanted to be a good person, but really I just wanted relief from the choke hold the resentment and blaming had on my life.

I worked hard in therapy, I completed forgiveness workbooks, I went to healing services, and I prayed. And gradually I forgave. And for the most part it stayed put. I went on with my life, free of the chains I had dragged around for so long. But as I was relating all this to my friend, something started nagging at me. Later, still reflecting on this vague uneasiness, I had a lightbulb-turning-on epiphany.

I realized that I had only completed half the work of forgiving. I still saw myself as the “innocent” party in this story. But was I? I had heaped judgment and blame on Jane. I had wished unpleasant things for her. And I had completely denied my own contribution to the escalation of the enmity between us. It was my own reaction to what had happened that created such a monster that forgiveness took so long and required so much effort.

And so in my heart I asked Jane for forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t like admitting, even to myself, the things I had thought and said and done. Humbling, to be sure.

So I’m wondering if I have stumbled onto a shortcut to forgiving others. Giving forgiveness is easier if you are also asking for forgiveness. Now, when I catch myself feeling wronged, in even some small way, before I get too invested in the story of someone else’s shortcomings, I try to stop and ask forgiveness for the separation I am creating by my own thoughts.

I’m finding that it is very difficult to ask for forgiveness and judge someone at the same time. So the bonus is that not only am I able to forgive more easily, but I’m less quick to judge (step 6). A twofer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Message on the Bathroom Wall

There is a dry erase message board in the ladies room at work. Usually, it is filled with notices of meetings and other announcements. Today, however, it had only one message.

"Hey! Hey! We're so lucky it's Tuesday! Have a great one!"

That it was written on a dark, rainy, windy, cold Tuesday makes it all the more cheery. We are lucky indeed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Righteous Unforgiveness

Our planet is in great trouble and if we keep carrying old grudges and do not work together, we will all die.

Before you read any further, guess who said that. Was it said by a Democrat after the recent election? A peacemaker in the Middle East? Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth? Any other guesses?

Give up? It was Chief Seattle. Have you ever noticed how some of the greatest advocates for forgiveness are among those who have the greatest reasons to remain bitter?

The Amish community forgave the man who came into one of their schoolhouses and shot ten little girls, killing five of them. (From the Ashes)

Nelson Mandela forgave his jailers and healed his country through truth and reconciliation.

Six year old Ruby Bridges prayed for God to forgive the screaming throngs hurling racist threats at her as she walked into her newly integrated school. (The F Word)

There are many stories of Holocaust survivors who refused to hate, of POWs from Vietnam who went back and met with their captors, of victims of horrific crimes who forgave the perpetrators.

And then there’s me. When I was a girl, I was playing ball one day with the neighbor’s children in their front yard. I believed one of the kids was cheating and I called him out. His siblings came to his defense and the shouting quickly escalated. I was relieved when my mom came outside to see what the fuss was about, certain she would take my side. Instead, she suggested that I apologize and that we go on with our game. When I refused, she issued an ultimatum – either I would apologize, or I could never play with these kids again.

I had only one sibling, and she was older by too many years to be a playmate for me, so my social life depended on the kids in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, without a moment’s hesitation, I stood my self-righteous ground ... and I never played with, or even spoke to, any of those kids again.

I mean really. I just shake my head when I think about it after all these years. And yet, if I think a little more, I bet I can come up with some folks that I am holding a grudge against right now in righteous unforgiveness. What about you – can you think of anyone? Is it worth it?

Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him. –Booker T. Washington

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Few Leaves

As I was driving to visit my sons today, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair on the sidewalk next to a van parked at the curb. The van had a ramp that was partially unfolded, but seemed to be stuck. The woman held something in her hand – I couldn’t tell if it was a control for the van or perhaps a cell phone. As I passed by, I looked for a driver or someone nearby who might be helping her, but I saw no one.

I continued another block or two wondering whether an offer of help would be appropriate or an unwelcome intrusion, and also thinking of the time since I was already late. But that little voice was poised to start nagging, so I circled back to see if she was still there. Sure enough, nothing had changed. I pulled over behind her van, got out, and asked her if she needed some help. Yes, she said. If I could just pull the bottom section of the ramp out, it would flatten out. It was easy enough to do, requiring only a gentle tug. The ramp had gotten stuck on a small pile of autumn leaves.

I asked her if she needed further assistance to get in the van or to get the ramp back up, but she assured me she could do the rest herself. As I drove off, I watched in the rear view mirror as she deftly maneuvered the chair up the ramp and into the van.

This woman had a state of the art wheelchair and van so that she could move about independently. A marvel of technology and engineering, providing self-sufficiency and freedom. And yet, it all came to a halt over a few leaves.

It took me all of 45 seconds to hop out of my car, unstick her ramp, get back into my car, and drive off. I’ve spent the last several hours thinking about how easy that was for me. In any given minute of our lives, how much do we take for granted?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ridiculously Extraordinary

That is the title of a blog I ran across recently. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s fun just to say it. Try it – say it out loud. Ridiculously extraordinary! Doesn’t that make your spirit perk up and your heart sing?

It reminds me of my favorite quote from A Course in Miracles. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I’ve been reading posts and comments on other blogs by women who are struggling to feel good about themselves. That’s all of us, right? Not just women. Where did we get the idea that we are not good enough? Is it our culture? Religion? The Dalai Lama was mystified when someone asked him a question about self-hatred. He didn’t understand the concept at all.

Hmm. Well, maybe why we feel that way is not as important as whether we have to feel that way. I had a friend named Faye, a Mississippi steel magnolia. She was 5 feet tall on a good day. No matter how casual the occasion, she wore spike heels and carried herself like a runway model. She was as feisty as a bantam rooster. One day when she was being her hilarious self, I said, “Faye, you are too much.” She drew herself up and said in her sweetest southern drawl, “Oh no, honey, I am just right.”

And she was. As are we all. More than just right. Ridiculously extraordinary.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Have To vs I Get To

Complaining is a way of judging. It can become a habit, a habit that does not serve us, that does not lead to our happy place.

One way of complaining is “I have to” statements. I have to go to work. I have to cook dinner for the kids. I have to pay bills. How many times a day do I start a sentence with “I have to”? Lots more than I realize, I bet.

Think of something you “have to” do. How does that make you feel? When I say “I have to” I feel resistance, like I really don’t want to do it. I might feel resentful or grumpy or powerless or overwhelmed. I’m not likely to do whatever it is with a good attitude. I’m not likely to feel happy about it.

But what happens if we change one word? What happens if we change “I have to” to “I get to”? How do you feel now?

Instead of I have to go to work, I get to go to work. I have a job when so many people are out of work. I get to be around other people whose company I enjoy. I am paid well for work that I can do well.

Instead of I have to cook dinner for the kids, I get to cook dinner for the kids. I have kids whom I adore, and who appreciate a good meal. I have access to healthy food grown by people who work hard to provide me and my family with an amazing variety of delicious things to eat. I have a kitchen full of tools and appliances to help me prepare the food quickly and easily.

Instead of I have to pay the bills, I get to pay the bills. I have electricity and water that come right to my home. I can watch my favorite team on cable TV from the comfort of my couch. I can pay for services provided by skilled people who can fix things, paint things, or save me time.

All of a sudden, instead of feeling burdened by all the things I have to do, I feel blessed beyond belief by all the things I get to do. How did I get to be so lucky?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Book I Cannot Write

I spoke last week at a fundraiser for an organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Adults like my two sons who live in one of the organization’s group homes and work at one of their sheltered work sites. I spoke about trying so hard for so many years to find a cure for my autistic son...and failing. I spoke about becoming a foster parent to James’s classmate Dan when Dan’s parents died and there was no foster family qualified to take him because of his autism. I spoke about being a single mother with two autistic teenagers, knowing that like Dan’s parents, I, too, would be gone one day, and how terrified I was about what would happen to them.

I spoke about sleeping easier these days knowing that they have a good life in the care of an organization that provides more than I ever could by myself. They work and go out with friends and do everything that anyone else does, with the help of caring and trained staff. I see them most every week, unless they are too busy and ask me not to come. I see that they are thriving.

I spoke about hope. I hope I have done the best I can. I hope that Dan’s mother looks down from heaven and believes that I have honored my promise to her to care for her son.

It was a speech of joy and triumph, and immense gratitude. And yet when I spoke, my throat choked up and my eyes filled with tears. My voice quivered as I told my story. The sadness is never very far away.

I write about James and Dan sometimes, little snippets of the story that began 23 years ago and will continue all my life, and theirs. People tell me I should write a book, that it would help other parents. Perhaps it would. I don’t know. But it is a book I cannot write.

I’ve learned that denying my feelings over the years, being afraid of the enormity and intensity of them, not only deadened the pain, but also deadened the joy. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Our natural instinct is to avoid suffering, to run from it, to escape from it. But we can’t. The four noble truths do not offer a way out, but rather a way through. When my pain eventually broke through, when I got too soul sick to fight it anymore, I discovered that the released pain brought with it into the light the exquisite joy of life, here for us in unlimited abundance, always.

I’ve made my peace with sorrow. It doesn’t go away, but it isn’t scary anymore. I recognize it as the key to unlocking compassion. And compassion is the key to sweet, sweet happiness.

I can’t write the book I’m asked to write, about raising my sons. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because writing little pieces of the story here and there, as I do, does not ask me to leave the present to revisit those dark and deadened times for the extended periods which a book would require. Perhaps it is a story that has already been told, in ways more meaningful and eloquent than my writing skills permit. Perhaps the time for my writing that story is simply not yet. Or perhaps the time has passed. I guess I’ll find out. So be it.

Related posts Mad/Sad/Glad Game, Game Change

Friday, October 29, 2010

T-Shirt Wisdom


I am going to make that my note to self today. And I’m going to make it an awesome day by trying an exercise I read about in Rolling Around Heaven by Jessica Maxwell. I’m going to say thank you for everything today. For one day I am going to be grateful for everything, without judgment, without hesitation.

So this is how my day has started out. I’m thankful that–
I woke up this morning
my brain knows where I am
I have a cozy bed to wake up in
the dog who shares my cozy bed no longer has fleas
I can breathe
I have eyes that can look out the window at the first faint light
I have ears that can hear the construction noise across the street
the construction workers waited until I was awake to start work today
my legs worked when I got out of bed
my house has heat that comes on magically in the morning when I turn it up
I have indoor plumbing
I have hot water for a shower
my robe is clean and smells good
I have my favorite cereal for breakfast
I have teeth to eat it with
I have clothes to wear
my house has electricity
I have a computer
my computer works
(I guess I have to be grateful that my computer is slow as molasses, but I momentarily hesitated on that one)
it’s Friday

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Now I’m going to go be grateful for my toothbrush and toothpaste, and then I’m going to be grateful for my car which will take me to my job I’m grateful for.

I hope you have an awesome day today full of gratitude.

Related posts: I'm Grateful for That, 1000 Gifts

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Child Will Lead Them

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness since I realized that I rarely write about it (The F Word). Forgiveness seems like such a good idea. It is certainly a central idea in the Bible. And in A Course in Miracles. And in psychology. And in 12 step programs. It is central to Amish culture (From the Ashes).

People read thousands of books about it, spend years in therapy to be able to give it or receive it, beg for it, pray for it, marvel at it, long for it, fear it. Most everyone agrees that forgiveness is a good thing. I say most everyone because I read an article by someone who was not very keen on forgiveness. He thought that some people should not be forgiven. For example, he would withhold forgiveness from someone who expresses no remorse. Or someone who is a repeat offender. Or who does something so horrible that forgiveness is out of the question.

However, in reading his rationale, I believe that he confuses forgiveness with reconciliation, or self-protection, or trivialization – all focused on the wrongdoer. But forgiveness isn’t about the forgiven; it’s about the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness separates us, which inevitably results in fear, which in turn is often masked as judgment. It is, in another paraphrase of the familiar wisdom, like drinking rat poison hoping the rat will die.

Well, goshdarnit, if withholding forgiveness is so toxic, and forgiving is so beneficial, why is it so hard to do? Hmm, now that I think about it, it seems that children have a much easier time of it. Have you ever apologized to a child? “Sorry, honey, I forgot,” or “I should not have said that,” or “I’ll make it up to you.” How quickly did the child respond with forgiveness? The younger the child, it seems the more quickly he forgives. I’ve watched kids playing together when one child does something mean, then after a moment (which may or may not include an apology), the play goes right on, while the wrong that I would have nursed a grudge over for months is apparently shrugged off.

So what do children know about forgiveness that we’ve forgotten?

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling all together, and a little child will lead them. –Isaiah 11:6

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Walking Through Illusion

You might have noticed that I have a picture of a dragonfly in the About Me box. I like this image because the dragonfly symbolizes seeing through illusion to find our true vision. Dragonflies can see things from different angles by refracting light, showing that life is not always what it appears to be.

The title of Betsy Otter Thompson’s book, Walking Through Illusion, encourages us to examine what we see, to look from different angles, and to move through illusion into truth. So many barriers, perhaps all the barriers, to finding our happy place are illusions. Where do they come from? From stories we believe from our culture, from our families, from ourselves. Stories we accept as truth, because perhaps we fear the truth (Our Deepest Fear).

So maybe we can learn something from those little iridescent fairies flying around in the summer.

May we all walk through illusion to find our happy place and abide there in deepest joy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gratitude Board

I have two kids still living at home. They both go to college and also work, so we are rarely all at home at the same time. I have one of those little dry erase boards on the refrigerator so that we can leave messages for each other – where we are going to be, phone messages, etc. But much of the time, the board sits empty. So yesterday I wrote at the top of the board “I’m grateful for ...” and began a list. By evening, a couple of new entries were added, and today, a few more.

Here is what it currently says:

I’m grateful for–
1. Sunshine
2. Doughnuts
3. Music
4. Clean towels
5. Being healthy

When we run out of room, we can just erase and start over. I like the idea that as we pass the refrigerator, we can communicate with each other about what we are grateful for.

I’m going to need a second board now for messages!

P.S. I would love to take credit for this idea, but I read about it recently on Ann Voskamp’s blog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The F Word

No, not that F word. The other F word. Forgiveness. In reviewing my posts recently, I was very surprised to see that I have rarely written about forgiveness, at least as the primary focus of a post. I find that avoidance, well, significant. If we avoid the places that scare us, and if the places that scare us are the very places we need to go in order to grow our spirit and deepen our faith, then it looks like forgiveness might be a place where I need to spend some time. I’m already uncomfortable just thinking about it.

From my review, it looks like I have written about forgiveness mostly in relation to not judging and compassion. That makes sense. If we can refrain from judging and open our hearts with compassion, forgiveness often occurs almost as a by product. It’s easy. We hardly need to think about it. We’re off the hook.

Or not. Sometimes we come face to face with forgiveness in all its raw demand, and powerful promise. I was reminded recently of the story of Ruby Bridges, who was escorted by federal marshals to her first grade class. Ruby was the only black student sent to integrate an all white school in New Orleans in 1960. People saw her mouth moving as she walked, so tiny inside the circle of towering marshals, through the raging crowd screaming every vile thing you can imagine at her. Later, when asked what she was saying, she said that she was praying, praying that she would be strong and not afraid, and praying for God to forgive the people in the crowd because they didn’t know what they were doing. Ruby was six years old.

How many petty things have I held a grudge about long past the expiration date? Perhaps holding an image of little Ruby in my mind will help me let go. Instead of forgiving those who have wronged me, perhaps I should ask for forgiveness for holding onto my righteous arrogance.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. –Mark Twain

Related post From the Ashes

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fun in Surprising Places

I was stopped at an intersection today where I noticed lots of playbills stapled to a utility pole. Up above all the papers, higher than anyone could reach without a ladder, was a hand painted sign nailed to the pole. The sign said

See you soon
Space Cowboy

Now what do you think that meant? Was it a message from an alien visitor to the earthbound cowgirl he left behind? Or perhaps it was a message to a superhero from a hopeful, admiring fan.

I have no idea what it was, but my curiosity is delighted by the mysterious whimsy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Person of Yes

A certain political party, it doesn’t matter which one (this isn’t a political commentary), is sometimes called the party of no. I get that. I often catch myself being the person of no. “Hey, do you want to come with us to...” No. “Mom, is it all right if I...” No. “We need someone to...” No.

I don’t want to be the person of no. So I’ve been thinking about people who say yes.

One Sunday morning, a guest preacher was scheduled to speak in our church. The worship service started and there was no guest preacher. Time for the sermon and there was no guest preacher. We all waited. One of the associate pastors stood up. The guest speaker’s sermon was titled Using What You’ve Got. So the associate pastor used what he had. He talked about living in hope when we don’t know the future. I wish I remembered all the words he said. I don’t. But I remember watching him and thinking, This is what faith looks like. He didn’t talk about faith. He showed us faith. He used what he had and said yes.

My two sons live in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. Staff people help them with various things – cooking, money, transportation, and so forth. One staff person in particular goes above and beyond. My son James loves to go to the zoo. She not only took him to the zoo, but she made it a creative outing. She videotaped him talking about the animals. It was like a show on Animal Planet. James lectured, sang, and danced his way through the zoo. I got the DVD of his show for Mother’s Day. I treasure it because it is James at his best – happy, being a ham, showing off what he knows about what he loves. The staff person made this possible. She used what she had and said yes. And, come to think of it, so did James.

If I so admire these folks who use what they’ve got to say yes, why do I so often say no? Sometimes, I don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, I’m afraid that if I use what I’ve got, it won’t be enough. So many reasons. But when I listen to the inner calling, when I trust that if I just step up and offer my willingness, everything will be all right, I sometimes find that miracles happen.

I don’t want to be the person of no. I want to be the person of yes. Do you know someone who is a person of yes? Maybe you are a person of yes!

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be ... yes. –Dag Hammarskjold

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding Love

Okay, we’re all suckers for sweet animal stories with cute pictures. Here is your awww moment for the day.

Noah the pigeon and the bunnies

Browsing elsewhere on the website I found this wisdom – “Love is found where love is given.” I think the people who run this ranch must find love every day. Certainly Noah the pigeon does!

He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge. –Psalms 91:4

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angels Watching Over Me

I was driving yesterday to a women’s retreat with a friend in the passenger seat and my daughter in the back seat. As I approached a busy intersection with a green light and traffic flowing, I was chatting with my friend but somehow saw in my peripheral vision a car coming towards the intersection from the left. The car did not appear to be slowing down. Without even thinking I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could. I didn’t even have time to say anything. The car zoomed by inches in front of my bumper and slammed full speed into the front end of the black SUV moving past me on my right, pushing it across two lanes into a van coming the other way.

In that calm way we have when our brains have not had time to process what is happening, I pulled over and got out to see if anyone was hurt while my friend dialed 911. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries. The driver who caused the accident by running the red light looked blankly at me. “I wasn’t paying attention,” she said softly.

Soon we continued on our way. It didn’t take long before my brain, fueled by adrenaline, began to catch up and play what if. A few seconds. A failure to see or to react. Not having anti-lock brakes. The other car would have crashed into the driver’s door. My door. Instead of going to the retreat for a relaxing weekend in old growth forest by the riverside, ....

Now I’m back home and reflecting on all the cliche things we think about after a close call like that. I’m going to hug my kids, treasure every moment, not sweat the small stuff, stop to smell the roses. You know the list. But beyond the reordering of priorities, I keep coming back to the inner conviction that I was being protected. I would like to tell you that I have superhuman vision and awareness, and faster than light reflexes, but of course I don’t. Something happened at that intersection that I just can’t explain.

Call me crazy, but I felt the presence of my mom, not a common experience in all the years since she died. In fact, not an experience I’ve had even once. Just an effort to make sense of a random occurrence? Sure, that’s possible. Furthermore, why would I warrant some divine assistance when the other drivers didn’t? Were their guardian angels on a coffee break? I’m certainly no more deserving than anyone else, and less deserving than most.

Maybe an accident just wasn’t in my spiritual lesson plan yesterday. Maybe my lesson was about remembering and reconnecting. Thanks, Mom.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our Deepest Fear

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. The first part in quotation marks is from A Course in Miracles.

Once, when a group of American psychologists met with the Dalai Lama, he asked them about difficulties encountered by Western students of Buddhism. They told him that self-hatred was one of the strongest challenges. He did not even know what that meant. Apparently, the concept is unknown in Tibet.

Powerful beyond measure. I feel chills up my spine when I read that. Yes, it is terrifying. And exciting. Deliciously exciting.

If you want to sing out
Sing out.
And if you want to be free
Be free.
‘Cause there’s a million things to be.
You know that there are.

–Cat Stevens

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Heart Hospitality

I like welcome mats. When you walk up to someone’s door, the mat tells you something about the people who live there. Is it a functional mat or a fancy one? Perhaps it has a sports logo or birds or flowers on it, or a funny message from the dog or cat. It might say “No one is a stranger here,” or “Come back with a warrant.”

Hospitality. So many stories and customs. We’ve heard about families who always had an extra seat at the table for someone stopping by, or extra food handed out the back door to the hungry. We’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of the Bedouins. And Southern hospitality. And the story of the loaves and fishes in the Bible.

And of course my daughter, who used to stand on the front porch when she was little and call down to people passing by – “Hello! Where are you going? Where do you live? Do you have any kids? What’s your name?” – until I could race outside and scoop her up.

What about our heart hospitality? Is there room at the table for one more? Do we turn away strangers? Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, give clothes to the needy, visit the sick or imprisoned, or welcome a stranger, when we do it to the least, we do it to him. Notice, he didn’t say it’s “like” doing it to him. We do it “to him.”

A Course in Miracles teaches that when we separate ourselves from others not only through actions, but even by our thoughts, then we separate ourselves from God. Thoughts of anger, unforgiveness, criticism, envy, fear, block our ability to see the divine in everyone.

We have busy lives and good reason to exercise caution for our safety, but in our hearts, can we put the welcome mat out? Can we greet each person with Namaste (I honor that place in you where, if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us)?

I just went to my front door and looked at the welcome mat. It is dirty and faded and frayed. I’m going to toss it in the trash and go buy a new one.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. –Hebrews 13:2

Related post That Man Might Be Jesus

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Make Someone's Day!

During a meeting yesterday, the woman I was sitting next to turned to me and said, out of the blue, “You have the nicest smile. I bet everyone tells you that.”

Well, no, no one tells me that. My mom probably told me that when I was little; I don’t remember. But when this woman told me that, I ... well, I’m embarrassed to admit how pleased I was. I basked in that compliment all day. I smiled at myself in the rear view mirror at traffic lights. I smiled at my children. I smiled at strangers. I just smiled for no reason.

That simple compliment made my day. I woke up this morning still thinking about it. How easy it is to brighten someone’s day with a few kind words. Today, I am going to look for opportunities to pay her kindness forward. What fun!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

From Victim to Victor

I once watched a nervous young lawyer make his case in an appellate courtroom before a panel of three judges. The lawyer clearly had the superior legal position and the judges kept interrupting him to assure him that they understood his argument. What they really meant was, “It’s almost lunchtime and we’re hungry. You’ve already won, so just stop.” But the lawyer was inexperienced and did not get the hints. So when he inadvertently made a misstep, the now grumpy judges pounced. They began to challenge him until he painted himself into a corner. Finally, one judge took pity and said, “Counselor, don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Words. Our words are powerful and send out energy that calls back to us matching energy. Like an echo. A tragic example are the horrific deaths of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, who were killed in Alaska while studying bears. An audio recorder that was left running revealed that one morning a bear attacked Timothy and killed him as Amie screamed and continued screaming even after the bear left. Soon after, the bear returned and killed her, too.

Experts speculated that Amie’s high pitched squeals were eerily like predator calls, devices used by hunters to lure predators out into the open. The predator calls mimic the sounds of an injured animal.

Of course, no one knows for sure whether she actually called the bear back to her, but we do know that our voice is an awesome gift, to be used for good or ill. We are all familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we might not be calling man-eating predators out of the shadows, we sometimes use our words, intentionally or carelessly, to send out harmful energy, which will then be reflected back to us.

You might immediately think about manipulative lies or malicious gossip or angry attacks. But what about veiled criticism or insensitive remarks? We don’t always hear ourselves or realize how our words sound to others. Sometimes my daughter will just blurt out whatever pops into her head, including things that hurt. When I react, she defends herself with, “But that’s not what I meant,” or, “I wasn’t thinking.” Too late.

We are even less likely to recognize the harm in voicing negative thoughts about ourselves, especially if we see the comments as funny or self-deprecating. There was a thankfully short-lived teen response to a mistake – “Oh, I’m stupid.” When any of my kids would flippantly say this, I would cringe. We call the energy to us that we project.

False modesty is just that – false. Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.” He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant. But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”

Okay, but what about the times when we really do feel stupid, or incompetent, ineffective, unattractive, unsuccessful, unlovable, or unloving? We all have thoughts like that sometimes. But we don’t have to give those thoughts power by voicing them. On the contrary, we can voice the opposite. We can speak the thoughts that will express and therefore attract what we want for ourselves. A famous AA saying is “fake it till you make it.” When I suggested this in a workshop, someone objected to the concept, saying that it wasn’t authentic or honest. Pema Chodron says that’s true only if we are deceiving ourselves. On the other hand, even “though we know exactly what we feel, we make the aspirations in order to move beyond what now seems possible.” Thus, we free ourselves from limiting and separating thoughts, whether directed at ourselves or at others.

We can choose to be a victim or a victor. We can speak our greatest destiny.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I Know For Sure

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied. "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

My mind feels like that cup sometimes. So full. Overflowing full. I have a hard time remembering things. My daughter says I have the memory of a gnat. She’s right. I think it’s because I have so much useless stuff stuck in my memory and I can’t find the delete button. I can remember my childhood phone number, but I can’t remember to pick up juice on the way home. When I try to remember something new, my mind plays a familiar recording. “The message inbox for the number you are calling is full.”

There is just too much information out there that I’m trying to store in here. Not only grocery lists, but also information about truth. I just finished a book by someone who thinks he has God all figured out. The title isn’t important because there are a million books like that. There are a million books like that because there are a million people who believe they know the truth.

Oprah Winfrey writes a column for her magazine every month called “What I Know For Sure.” Whenever I pick up her magazine in the checkout line, I marvel at the notion that at least once a month, she knows something for sure. No wonder she “makes bank,” as my daughter says.

So if these people really know the truth, then why don’t they all agree? Not only do they not agree, but some will argue vehemently about the rightness of their positions. Some will even kill each other.

The Tao Te Ching teaches, “Wise men don’t need to prove their point. Men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.” I must be very wise, because not only do I not need to prove my point, but I’m not sure I even have a point to prove.

You can’t organize truth. That’s like trying to put a pound of water into wrapping paper and shaping it. –Bruce Lee

Related post The Way of No Way

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Go to the places that scare you. –advice from her teacher to the Tibetan yogini Machik Labdron

Losing my way ... and finding my way back again. A time of transformation, changes, releasing, becoming. Holding on as life’s current pulls me away from the familiar, feeling my fingers slipping off. Straining to see what’s up ahead.

In her book, Open the Door, Joyce Rupp describes this as the liminal space, the in-between space of a doorway. No longer here, but not yet there. A place of grieving, but also of mystery and promise.

A place of extreme discomfort. It’s very hard to stay, to tolerate the restlessness, to abide in the unknowing. My instinct is to escape, to choose something, anything, to get relief from the waiting, from the fear.

But my spirit says to wait. To trust. To be willing, when the time comes. And to remember the angels. I wrote before about an experience I had at my cabin in the mountains (Falling into Now). I fell off a ladder, and as I fell, I had the most exquisite experience of being held by angels. I understood that they were there not to protect my body from harm, but to give me a priceless gift. The gift was knowing that no matter what happened to my body, everything was perfect. Exactly the way it should be. This moment, this holy instant, is always perfect.

Down by the waterfall, Amanda pitched her tent–it was made of willow sticks and the wool of black goats. Having filled the tent with her largest and softest paisley cushions, Amanda stripped down to her beads and panties and fell into a trance. “I shall determine how to prolong the lives of butterflies,” she had previously announced.

However, an hour later when she awoke, she smiled mysteriously. “The life-span of the butterfly is precisely the right length,” she said.

--from Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins

So I wait. Willing, at least trying to be willing, to go to the places that scare me. Trusting, at least trying to trust, that angels surround me and that everything is exactly the way it should be. Perfect.

Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. –Exodus 23:20

Monday, September 20, 2010


At the beginning of the academic year, the head of my department conducts a training session for our teaching assistants, senior students who will be working with new students. He tells them that they are likely to review some assignments that are below acceptable standards. He cautions them that although it might look like a student has not made much of an effort, they should assume instead that all students are doing the very best they can.

I wrote last week about my reaction to a difficult evening with my autistic son (Losing My Way). I believed that my son was being deliberately rude and was choosing to disrupt the family dinner celebrating his brother’s birthday. I was frustrated by his unwillingness to accept my efforts to redirect his energy. I was angry. (Yes, I know that an inability to consider other people’s feelings is a classic characteristic of autism. I still thought he was doing it on purpose.)

Then I had a visit with a friend who was, like me, struggling to understand the behavior of a family member. We talked about how hard it is not to judge. Then she sighed and said about her own family member, “Maybe she’s doing the best she can.” I paused and admitted, “And maybe James is doing the best he can.”

Pema Chodron writes, “No one knows what it takes for another person to open the door.” The Native Americans understood about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. If I look at James’s behavior and consider the possibility that he is doing the best he can at any given moment, then perhaps I can loosen my grip on my judgment and resentment. Perhaps I can sense a glimmer of compassion.

Perhaps I could even do that with myself. I have had a hard few weeks in terms of my own efforts to be a “kinder, gentler” person. To be wise and serene. To be full of joy. I don’t always like what I see in my dark corners – dust bunnies of the soul. But maybe I am doing the best I can.

Not everything we find is what we want. But if we befriend what is within us and are willing to learn from it, serenity will ultimately reign at the center of our being. –Joyce Rupp

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Don’t push the river. It flows by itself. –Fritz Perls

My daughter is a natural athlete. She played basketball during her growing up years. She played during the season on her school team, and during the off season in hoop clubs. Then in high school, she wanted to switch to a new sport, lacrosse.

But when she came home from practice the first day, she announced that she did not like lacrosse. When I asked her why, she said in frustration, “I don’t know how to play.” I casually asked her how long she had played the game. She frowned and snorted in exasperation, “Two hours.” “Well,” I suggested, “why don’t you play two more hours before you decide.” After practice the second day, she announced that she loved the game and thought she would be good at it. And she was. She played on the varsity team the last two years of high school. Patience, child.

I have a brown belt in taekwondo. Like everyone, I started with a white belt. I didn’t know anything. It took me over two years to get a brown belt, and if all goes well, it will take me over another year to get a black belt. When you start, you progress fairly quickly, but as you get to the higher belt levels, the minimum length of time between belt promotions gets longer. You can extend the intervals if you are not ready for the next level, but you can’t shorten them. It takes as long as it takes. You learn patience.

But sometimes I am not very patient. For example, as I have struggled the last few weeks to regain my spiritual footing, I have felt discouraged and self-critical. I think I should do better, be better, and I should do better and be better faster. Pema Chodron says that this is a subtle aggression against who we really are. Practice “isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.”

In her book Sacred Thresholds, Paula D’arcy writes:

Don’t get ahead of your soul. The goal isn’t to get somewhere. The goal isn’t about forcing something to happen. The goal is to be in harmony with the gifts that are already given. The goal is to fall in love with your life. –as quoted in Open the Door by Joyce Rupp

I haven’t been in love with my life lately, but I’m going to do something about that, beginning with not pushing. It’s raining a little, but it isn’t cold. An afternoon walk sounds nice.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I wrote yesterday about how responses to my losing-my-way post had softened my heart. When people reached out to me with such compassion and kindness, my heart, which was so tense and knotted up with little lightning sparks sizzling and snapping, relaxed and took a deep breath.

The anger and frustration and agitation melted. What was left was sadness, deep pure sadness. And with the sadness, I felt a flood of compassion, both for the people who reached out to me and also for myself.

The judgment and blaming and criticism closed my heart. I was not in my happy place. But oddly, the sadness felt good. Not fun good, but peaceful good. I realized that I can be sad in my happy place, because the sadness does not separate me from others.

If we can tolerate our sadness, just sit quietly with it instead of running away from it, we can tap into deep wells of compassion – for ourselves, for those who comfort us, for those who, like us, feel sad.

If you want to make others happy, practice compassion. If you want to make yourself happy, practice compassion. – The Dalai Lama

Thursday, September 16, 2010

...and Finding...

I wrote last time about losing my way. Since then I have been finding my way back again. Still in process, but I will write as I go along.

Someone’s comment on the last post included this quotation. “As we give fully, unafraid to let others know the truth about ourselves, we receive unexpected rewards from unexpected sources.” – Helen Lerner-Robbins

I don’t claim to have given fully or that I was unafraid in posting that last entry. On the contrary, I was anxious about revealing too much, about disclosing that I was having a hard time, about admitting I had “relapsed” into negative habits. But whether warranted or not, I have indeed received unexpected rewards from unexpected sources.

A number of people have posted comments or emailed me to express appreciation for my honesty, to share their stories, to offer encouragement, to simply reach out. Some are people I know; some aren’t. The kindness of strangers. Unexpected sources.

And guess what – I feel better. Not because other people are also struggling, but because other people responded to my openness with openness in return. And feeling connected helped me feel better. My heart, which was closed with anger and judgment and shame, softened. Sometimes I get so focused on fixing the problem, that I overlook the real healing.

A blog is an odd thing. It is generally one directional. You post entries in cyberspace. For the most part, you don’t know who reads them or how readers react. But every now and then, there is dialogue. Connection. Healing. Unexpected rewards. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Losing My Way...

Living in my happy place does not mean feeling happy all the time. I have not felt happy these last few days. Three friends have died in recent weeks of cancer. I’m sad for their families and for all the people who will miss them.

I’m sad because the other night at Dan’s birthday dinner, James was being rude and disruptive at the restaurant. Nothing I said helped him redirect his negative behavior. On the contrary, it seemed that everything I said aggravated him even more. Which in turn, aggravated me. I was unable to take an emotional step back. I felt frustrated, embarrassed, angry, ashamed, and sad. So sad.

The anniversary of 9/11 hit me hard. People of faith, many faiths, stirring up so much anger and hatred. So much fear. Causing so much pain. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” I think he must be weeping now. My spirit hurts.

I try to meditate, to pray. To pick an appropriate step and use it. Where are all those happy habits I’ve been nurturing? I’m churned up, cranky, uncomfortable. I want to have a tantrum and a good cry, and then go to bed for several days. Until the storm passes. Until I feel at peace.

No, living in our happy place does not mean that life is always joyful. Old habits resurface. Judgment, criticism, control. Especially control.

So I wait.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. –Psalms 27:14